Written by Amy Bizzarri
Tennessee’s land, water, and climate are nearly perfect for the production of whiskey. Enthusiasts can sip their way through history and see the hard work and craftsmanship behind some of the world's finest whiskeys with a road trip along the winding, 600-mile-long Whiskey Trail, a scenic route that connects more than 25 distilleries across the Volunteer State. From hip hangouts in downtown Nashville to small-batch distilleries tucked away in the idyllic, rolling hills of central Tennessee, here are our favorite stops along the Tennessee Whiskey Trail.
Located in Clarksville, 30 minutes north of Nashville, Old Glory Distilling Co. is a small batch artisan distillery housed in a rustic-chic brick warehouse packed with bourbon and whiskey barrels. Start with a behind-the-scenes tour, then settle in among the copper stills to sip small-batch Tennessee whiskey. Old Glory's most unique offering is a barrel customized with your name or logo, and aged to perfection at the distillery. When it’s ready, sponsors receive a case of spirits along with the (empty) barrel.
In 2017, this independent, small-batch distillery in west Nashville debuted its first recipe of Davidson Reserve Whiskey, a 100-proof rye with warm, spicy notes. Three more varieties soon flowed out of the aging barrels: Davidson Reserve Four-Grain, Davidson Reserve Genesis, and Davidson Reserve Tennessee Whiskey. Watch as the distillery's Pickers Vodka (a tribute to Music City) is distilled 11 times through a column still, filtered four times, and blended with Tennessee limestone water. You’ll also want to try Pennington's Whisper Creek Tennessee Sipping Cream; made from aged Tennessee whiskey and dairy cream with notes of caramel, red apple, fig, and pecan, it tastes like autumn in a glass.
Corsair Distillery is located in Nashville's North Gulch district, within walking distance of Nelson's Green Brier Distillery. Childhood buddies Darek Bell and Andrew Webber began homebrewing beer and wine in their garage. In 2008, they switched to whiskey, opening Corsair Distillery's first location in Bowling Green, Kentucky, before moving on to Nashville in 2010. The whiskeys that flow here have won more than 800 medals at national and international competitions.
Founded in 1860 by Charles Nelson, Nelson's Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey was once the world's bestselling Tennessee whiskey brand, producing more than 2 million bottles by 1885. After Prohibition closed its doors, the distillery was resurrected 100 years later by Nelson’s great-grandsons, Andy and Charlie. The two brothers recreated their great-grandfather’s original recipes, filtering their fine whiskeys the old-fashioned way (through sugar maple charcoal) before aging. Go behind the scenes with the distillery’s Tasting Experience to see what it takes to produce award-winning whiskeys and sample selected spirits.
Nashville Craft Distillery makes all of its whiskey, gin, and sorghum spirits from scratch, making it one of Music City's truly handcrafted whiskey experiences. Bruce Boeko, formerly a DNA laboratory director, refocused his science background to produce spirits using local and regional ingredients. Distiller-led tours give visitors a behind-the-scenes look at the technical details of fermentation and distillation, and end with a sample cocktail and two straight spirit tastings. This is also the only distillery on the trail that puts visitors to work with its hands-on distilling experience.
Head south to Williamson County and the quaint city of Franklin, where Leiper's Fork Distillery churns out small-batch whiskeys using premium, local ingredients and pure limestone-filtered water. Many of the early immigrants to this picturesque region of Tennessee were of Scotch-Irish descent, and they carried with them the treasured tradition of crafting small-batch whiskey. The distillery offers tours and tastings and hosts Still House Sessions, intimate concerts featuring local musicians among the copper stills.
Less than 15 miles from Leiper's Fork, through the rolling hills and woods of Tennessee, H Clark Distillery's small-batch bourbon, gin, and whiskey pay homage to the state by highlighting local, seasonal ingredients. Housed in an old granary, the distillery offers complimentary tours and $15 tastings. H Clark's Tennessee Black & Tan, a whiskey made from barley malt, unmalted oats, and dark roasted chocolate malt, is inspired by Scottish whiskey and British beer traditions.
Located about an hour from H Clark Distillery, Short Mountain Distillery is situated on a 400-acre working farm in the small town of Woodbury. Known for its small-batch Tennessee moonshine, bourbon, and organic whiskey, the distillery offers tours and opportunities to sample its 100-proof Green Thumb whiskey. One of the few organic whiskeys produced in the region, Green Thumb features notes of dry cut hay, new saddle leather, and campfire smoke. An on-site restaurant pairs farm-to-table cuisine with whiskey and bourbon-based cocktails.